12 September 2009

Zimbabwe: 2,500 Prisoners Freed Under Amnesty

Harare — TWO of the country's longest-serving prisoners, who have been behind bars since the 1980s, yesterday tasted freedom after nearly three decades behind bars following the recent Presidential Amnesty.

A total of 2 513 inmates from prisons across the country strolled out of the gates vowing never to return, though past experiences of Presidential pardons show quite a good number of them will soon be "guests of the State" again.

The two long-serving inmates Christopher Pio Munyoro (64) and Lovemore Bvuno (63) were both sentenced to life imprisonment after they were convicted of murder in 1984 and 1985 respectively.

Munyoro was jailed after fatally assaulting his boss, a Mr Woods, at Zimasco in Kwekwe following an argument over a minimum wage of Z$104. Bvuno, on the other hand, was locked up in 1985 for the fatal shooting of his wife's boyfriend in Masvingo.

Being veterans of Harare Central Prison for all these years, it was perhaps only fitting that they were the first inmates from that correctional facility to taste their freedom yesterday morning.

Their fellow beneficiaries of the amnesty were later released in batches of between 30 and 55. The two narrated their stories to The Herald, saying when they were jailed, their wives abandoned the children and family homes.

The spouses' whereabouts, they said ruefully, were unknown. Munyoro's three children are all dead while Bvuno said he only knew that one of his three sons was in Swaziland while the other children  including a daughter are "somewhere out there".

In early 1984 Munyoro, who was employed as a crane operator at Zimasco, had an altercation with a Mr Woods over his wages. The argument degenerated into a fight during which Munyoro grabbed a spanner and struck Mr Woods once on the head.

Mr Woods died on the spot and Munyoro was arrested. Sometime in 1985, Bvuno, then a soldier based in Masvingo, went home armed with an AK-47 rifle and knocked on the door, but no one answered.

"My wife could not open the door because she was with another man," Bvuno said. He said he kicked the door in a bid to break it, and sensing danger, his wife opened it.

"I saw the boyfriend kneeling on top of my bed. This made me angry and I fired a shot, which hit him once in the chest and he died on the spot," he said. The two prison veterans thanked President Mugabe for the amnesty and gave assurances that they would not be involved in any criminal activities again.

Munyoro was taken home by his younger brother, Isaiah, while Bvuno said he had nowhere to go. The duo said they would look for work since they had learnt new skills in prison.

Acting Zimbabwe Prisons spokesperson Superintendent Elizabeth Banda hoped that the nation would accept all those who had been released.

"These people need assistance so that they can catch up. "We have been teaching them what to do so that they would reform and all we are asking is for people's co-operation and acceptance," she said.

A former lawyer, Toendepi Mahaso, who was among those released applauded the nation for its support while they were in prison. "On behalf of my fellow inmates, I would like to also thank the President for the clemency. We promise we are going to behave very well. "Imprisonment is not the end of the world. It is the beginning of a new life," he said.

Mahaso did not say what he would do as a free man considering the limitations placed on ex-convicts practicing law in the country's courts.

However, a prison guard who was standing close by as the interview was being conducted quipped: "There are some lawyers who have been jailed but are now running very profitable NGOs."

This was probably in reference to Dr Lovemore Madhuku, who served jail time for embezzling a client's money but after his release went on to help found the National Constitutional Assembly and has since re-admitted into practice by the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

A 20-member choir formed by the not-so-lucky remaining inmates sang songs as the ex-jail birds were escorted out of the complex.

Many of them wore half-smiles; evidently not sure whether to be happy or to be sad because they had nowhere to go once they walked out of the fortified and barbed-wired concrete walls they have called home for more years than they cared to remember.

Others were told to wait at the prisons main gate so that they could be given passesto enable them to travel on public transport since they had no bus fare. In years gone by the Zimbabwe Prison Services used to give released inmates a token sum of money, usually enough for bus fare, before they walked out.

This could, however, have been a result of the financial problems facing Government departments. A total of 147 prisoners were released from Harare Central Prison and a further nine will be out in the free world as soon as they undergo medical checks.

The Presidential Amnesty was granted under Section 311 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The order was cited as Clemency Order Number 1 of 2009 and was published in the Government Gazette of August 21, 2009.

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